The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

16 June 2003

Europe demands equal time

The Council of Europe, one of those pesky non-governmental organizations that the UN and its friends so cherish, has come up with a notion that demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that if someone were to propose something like the First Amendment in the European Union, it would be laughed off the agenda in record time.

Declan McCullagh at CNET's News.com reports that the Council is about to adopt a measure which would demand that should a person or an organization be criticized on the Net, at a news site, on a listserv, even in a blog, the Webmaster or list-owner must make space available for a response to that criticism, what they call the "right of reply."

This is nothing particularly new for Europe. Many European countries have provisions similar to this for Old Media, and the U.S. used to have something like it — Section 315, the infamous "fairness doctrine" — before it was abolished in 1987. At the time, naysayers (myself included) warned that an end to the regulation would inevitably mean an end to controversial topics on television; a decade and a half later, even the most perfunctory slide through the dial shows it hasn't done any such thing.

And if this abomination is passed by the Council and enacted into law in a number of countries, it will be a sure sign that those countries are more interested in keeping feathers from being ruffled than in any recognizable form of free speech — and yet another indication that we are wise to seek our allies elsewhere.

Posted at 6:43 PM to Dyssynergy


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kinda silly law...

but, you must make a distinction between real, sincere and all encompassing debate and what we have now, which is a bunch of blowhards that yell at each other about a narrow range of topics that will pique the viewers interests.

I would argue that despite the volume there is in fact a lack of fair time for all sides of an issue. Even a casual listen to the BBC will turn up a livelier debate about an issue than you are likely to hear on many talk shows. NPR can be good sometimes... television in horrible, nothing but a punch of political operatives pushing their talking points.

Posted by: bruce at 12:08 AM on 17 June 2003

Sorry, but anyone who seriously expects all sides to be heard on a one-way medium like television needs a reality check, in my opinion. There are too many issues, and too many opinions, and only 24 hours in a day.

Anyway, Bruce, I think what Chaz means is that with all the channels and radio-station formats available these days, you can probably find views close to your own being expressed somewhere.

Looks like you find it on BBC and NPR. Guess what -- the marketplace works for you too.

Posted by: McGehee at 7:14 AM on 17 June 2003

The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech; it doesn't guarantee that it will be civil or kindly.

And just because someone is a bilious blowhard (Hannity, for example) doesn't mean he's insincere. Although I wonder about O'Reilly sometimes. :)

Posted by: CGHill at 7:31 AM on 17 June 2003

Hmm. What does it say about me that, when I read about this new measure, I went, "Ooooh! Comments!!!"

I'm a sad man.

Posted by: Joe Goodwin at 1:22 PM on 17 June 2003

LOL @ Joe.

I wish *I* had thought of that.

And reading some of the comments threads out there confirms what you're saying.

Posted by: timekeeper at 2:00 PM on 17 June 2003

I figure, we're still allowed comments, we may as well use them — and the Belgians and such can stare in disbelief. (This, according to Frank J., is the will of the evil overlord Belgazor.)

Posted by: CGHill at 2:57 PM on 17 June 2003